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It was the bike race, Part I

November 14, 2010

Bike raceFor the past two weeks, I’ve been busy working on a tax case competition. This competition was actually the same one that first interested in pursuing tax accounting two years ago when I was a junior trying to finalize my major and specialty.

Two years ago, though, we had a considerably different case (we were the tax strategists for an imaginary presidential candidate’s campaign in a country whose electorate was apparently becoming more sensitive to environmental concerns), and while I still think our team had a good approach, I recognized that our presentation had a few flaws and as a result, we didn’t win.

Actually, let me spell that out: Among other things, I totally froze for a good 20 seconds, forgetting what I was supposed to say. I got on track, but there was a noticeable and lengthy delay.

People say I shouldn’t be too harsh for myself. After all, that wasn’t the only flaw in our proposal. In our Q+A, one of our team members didn’t answer a single question (the judges like to see that the entire team is knowledgeable and assertive enough to answer at least one question); our powerpoint was not the prettiest thing ever (I just took a look at it this afternoon…it is…kinda disgusting), and our ideas were not all that creative.

But this year, as a graduate student taking Tax Planning and Strategy, I would be able to lead a team and correct all of these mistakes and more. I would have another chance yet to win!

I guess one major misconception people have about a tax case competition is that they suppose it is all about the tax solution. But I think one lesson we were meant to learn is that in this profession, tax is not the only thing we must know. We must know how to recruit (for we must find an able team of underclassmen); we must know how to present (for our solutions must be presented to a panel of judges); we must understand the non-tax implications of our tax strategies (what are the political or economic ramifications of our proposed changes?), and we must be creative outside of the code and regs (what are non-tax solutions that work well with the tax solutions?)

(I hope this doesn’t sound too naive, promotional, and nicey-nice. Other things I realized were: we also need to find a way to “sell” — sell ourselves to the judges or sell our solutions to the client.)

This year, I went into the competition with at least some thought in the back of my mind about these factors.

I knew from my past experience (from the position of the recruited) that recruiting is the first hurdle, and it can make or break a team to have (or not have) dedicated, qualified people. Now, certainly, we can’t expect sophomores and juniors to have an awareness of every tax issue, but we can find those who are comfortable with speaking and who are willing to learn. How do you ascertain which sophomores and juniors will be stellar, but not too stellar (after all, that super-promising honor student may be overinvolved and have no time for distractions like this)? How do you find someone who is willing to work? How do you avoid chasing someone away?

As soon as I found the list of available sophomores and juniors to recruit (our professor had appealed to sophomore- and junior-level accounting classes to find interested people), I checked the list to see if I recognized anyone. Most grad students are at a disadvantage here…what kind of grad student hangs out with sophomores? However, since I had delayed taking a particular course that I should’ve taken in my sophomore year to this year, I actually knew quite a few honor student sophomores and juniors. (BTW, that sophomore level class is by far my most difficult, if only because we have a monstrous group project in it. That I’ve alluded to before.)

Additionally, my brother also attends A&M, is also in the business school, and he is a second-year junior…so he also knew many of the people on the list, sophomore- and junior-wise. So I was quickly able to find people that I had seen present before (from my class) or for whom I could indirectly vouch (through my brother).

And so, before the competition even began, I had my eye on who the sophomore and junior members of the team would be, whereas everyone else would have to go through some vetting process or deal with duds.

The only thing left would be to find out who my graduate student partner was and what the case would be able this year…

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